Sunday, 28 December 2008


As tourists, Jenny and I can afford to rent a swish apartment at Milson's Point, right next to the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. We can step outside and drink in the astonishing views across the river estuary, known as Port Jackson.

We're well aware that many Sydneysiders (including Baino and Gaye*) aren't so privileged and couldn't possibly run to a home anywhere on the waterfront with its eye-watering property prices. Instead of stunning river views, they have to settle for the suburbs and only come into central Sydney now and again.

At Milson's Point, even the tiny local theatre charges A$56 for a ticket (that's around 26 pounds). And the food shops aren't cheap either. You need a serious income to get by in this affluent enclave.

To the rest of the world, the bridge and the opera house symbolise Sydney and suggest the locals spend their time sailing their yachts along the river and swigging perfect wines from one of the nearby vineyards. Plus of course popping into the opera house for the odd bit of Mozart or Puccini.

The reality is very different. The locals are actually more likely to be crammed into commuter trains in sultry temperatures, wondering how to pay the mortgage or get little Brett into a decent school.

We're very conscious of our pampered tourist existence as we follow scenic paths around the leafy headlands, exclaim over amazing paintings in the art galleries, and then enjoy a leisurely Thai meal just below one of the most famous landmarks in the world.

Not only that, but we spent Christmas Day in our shirtsleeves as our home city of Belfast shivered in the usual wintry temperatures. Cushy or what?

No words can do justice to the overwhelming beauty of Sydney and its remarkable lagoon-like setting. I'm just glad I've been able to enjoy it twice over - and if my ageing body holds up, hopefully a third time.

* Finally met up with Baino and Gaye. Quite odd really, suddenly meeting the real-life creators of all those thousands of words. A bit like a real person stepping out of a dream - or stepping out of the pages of a book. Surely I'm hallucinating?

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


Melbourne is one of those cities whose centre is so hard-edged, commercial-ised and tourist-ridden that your first reaction is totally negative and you think "What the hell did I come here for?"

Especially when it's pouring with rain - in Australia.

Then after a while you realise there's another city, a less visible city, that's actually full of unexpected delights and insights, and you set about discovering it through friends and acquaintances, through intuition, and through the less thumbed pages of your Lonely Planet guide.

You discover little precincts just outside the city centre that have a wonderful atmosphere to them - spacious, laid-back, slightly bohemian, full of interesting shops and people.

You discover the museums and galleries full of astonishing paintings, sculpture, historical relics and human stories. All the extraordinary individuals who've contributed to the life of the city. A wealth of aboriginal traditions and beliefs and artifacts.

You casually jump on and off the hundreds of trams that make up the biggest tram network in the world. You gawp at all the exotic plants in one of the world's greatest botanical gardens. And if you're a local, you can pick up mouth-watering delicacies at the massive central market.

And the sun's come out and it's just warm enough to feel nicely relaxed. Yes, it's Australia after all and not glacial Northern Ireland.

And finally I realise that the brash, hard-nosed city centre isn't the real Melbourne at all, just the unsightly carbuncle you notice first, the repulsive blemish that distracts you from the less obvious charms. Yes, there's a lot more to this place than meets the eye.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Heading for Oz

In a few hours I'm off to Adelaide, Australia to meet up with Jenny for a wee vacation. We'll be returning from Sydney at the beginning of January.

I might do some posts from Oz. On the other hand, I might not.

So take care of yourselves, have a fabulous Christmas and I'll have a few Down Under tales for you when I get back.

PS: Fortunately I'm flying out via Singapore and not Bangkok....

The image has nothing whatever to do with Australia - but I liked it.